in f

Concerto in F (Gershwin)

Concerto in F is a composition by George Gershwin for solo piano and orchestra which is closer in form to a traditional concerto than the earlier jazz-influenced Rhapsody in Blue. It was written in 1925 on a commission from the conductor and director Walter Damrosch.

Genesis of the concerto

Damrosch had been present at the February 12, 1924 concert arranged and conducted by Paul Whiteman at Aeolian Hall titled An Experiment in Modern Music which became famous for the premiere of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, for which the composer performed the piano solo. The day after the concert, Damrosch contacted Gershwin to commission from him a full-scale piano concerto for the New York Symphony Orchestra, closer in form to a classical concerto and orchestrated by the composer.

Gershwin would later receive formal training and lessons from influential figures like Henry Cowell, Wallingford Riegger and Arnold Schoenberg in advanced composition, harmony and orchestration, however, in 1924 he had had no such training. Under the pressure of a deadline to complete the work, in 1925 Gershwin bought books on theory, concerto form and orchestration and taught himself the skills needed. Because of contractual obligations for three different Broadway musicals, he was not able to begin sketching ideas until May 1925. He began the two-piano score on July 22 after returning from a trip to London, and the original drafts were entitled New York Concerto. The first movement was written in July, the second in August, and the third in September, much of the work being done in a practice shack at the Chautauqua Institution. This had been arranged through the Australian composer and teacher Ernest Hutcheson, who offered seclusion for Gershwin at Chautauqua, where his quarters were declared off limits to everyone until 4 p.m. daily. Thanks to this, Gershwin was able complete the full orchestration of the concerto on November 10 1925.

Gershwin hired a 60-piece orchestra to run through his first draft later that month. Damrosch attended and gave advice to Gershwin, who made a few cuts and revisions. The premiere performance was by the composer on 3 December 1925 in New York's Carnegie Hall with the New York Symphony Orchestra with Damrosch conducting (three years later the orchestra would merge with the Philharmonic Symphony Society into the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and one of the new orchestra's first projects was the commission and December 1928 premiere of Gershwin's next symphonic work An American in Paris). The concert was sold out and the concerto was very well received by the general public. However, the reviews were mixed, with many critics unable to classify it as jazz or classical. Indeed, there was a great variety of opinion among Gershwin's contemporaries; Igor Stravinsky thought the work was one of genius, whereas Sergei Prokofiev disliked it intensely.

The Concerto in F shows considerable development in Gershwin's compositional technique namely because he orchestrated the entire work himself, unlike the Rhapsody in Blue which was done by Ferde Grofé, the orchestrator for Paul Whiteman's orchestra. The English composer William Walton commented that he adored Gershwin's orchestration of the concerto, he himself being a famous orchestrator. Gershwin scored his concerto for 2 flutes and a piccolo, 2 oboes and an english horn, 2 B flat clarinets and a B flat bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns in F, 3 B flat trumpets, 3 trombones and a tuba, 3 timpani - 32", 29" and 26" (one player), 3 percussionists (first player: bass drum, bells, xylophone; second player: snare drum periodically muffled and with regular and brush sticks, wood block, Whip (instrument); third player: crash cymbals, suspended cymbal with sticks, triangle and gong), solo piano and strings.


The concerto is in the traditional three movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio - Andante con moto
  3. Allegro agitato

There are strong thematic links between the outer movements, while the second movement is the most obviously jazz-influenced. There exists in each movement a very subtle structural integrity that is not immediately apparent to the listener or even the player, but the structure rivals that of any classical or romantic composer.

The first movement begins with blasts from the timpani, introducing some of the main thematic material. After four pages of orchestral introduction, the piano comes in to play a jazzy solo section which introduces yet another new melody that will be seen throughout the movement. From here, the music alternates between grandiose and skittish, between broad and delicately soft. The climax is reached at a section marked Grandioso, with the orchestra blaring out the piano's original melody, and the piano playing a large triplet figure in support. There is a piano cadenza of a quick triplet ostinato that has been heard before in the piece, which leades to the final pages; speeding octaves and chords, capitulating in a large run of the triplet ostinato up the keyboard along an F Major 6 chord, which brings the movement to a close.

The second movement is the blues, with a slow beginning, where a solo trumpet plays a slow blues type melody; a faster piano part, and a gradual build until near the end. When the full orchestra and piano are playing loud, only a few bars to the end, and it seems the piece will come to a crashing end, everything pulls back to the original quiet melody and ends peacefully.

The final movement is a pulsating, energetic finale that features the dominant seventh melody and the main melody of syncopated eighth notes and triplets from the first movement, the blues melody from the second movement, and a melody of its own. One section, at the Grandioso, is exactly the same as the corresponding section in the first movement, but this time, the scales at the end lead back into the pulsing patterns from the beginning. The same motif that closed the first movement is heard in octaves now, a quick run of octaves up and down an F Major 6 chord, bringing the work to a blasting finish.

Notable Recordings

Although somewhat less popular than many other piano concertos, a number of recordings by well known artists have been made. The first was in 1928 by Paul Whiteman and his Concert Orchestra, with Roy Bargy at the piano, of an arrangement by Ferde Grofé, for Columbia Records. Others include:

Radio broadcast

Although Gershwin never commercially recorded the concerto, he was later invited by Rudy Vallee to play the third movement from the concerto on an NBC radio broadcast in 1931, which was preserved on transcription discs and later issued on both LPs and compact discs. Vallee used a special arrangement prepared for his studio orchestra. Gershwin also played a few of his popular songs on the broadcast.



External links

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